Dragon Guardian – Polyphony
I think I should begin this review by explaining a bit about Dragon Guardian and exactly what they are. This is a Japanese power metal band that you’ve probably never heard of – and I wouldn’t blame you. They are extremely underground, and most of the band is just one guy that goes by the name of “Arthur Brave,” who does the composing, writes the lyrics, arranges the songs, and plays lead guitar. They have gone through several vocalists in their tenure, and have a surprisingly swift release schedule, releasing 8 full lengths and 3 EP’s in the last 2 years. Many of their early albums feature anime-themed album covers and female vocals interspersed with symphonic power metal. As far as I know, they’ve never toured outside of Japan, and probably have very little following anywhere else in the world.
Dragon Guardian take the Japanese school of power metal and carry it to an extreme. There are synthesizers everywhere, and plenty of neoclassical wankery on all instruments. If you have a problem either with Japanese vocals or poorly pronounced English, I wouldn’t recommend this album, as these vocal maladies plague the whole album (and all Dragon Guardian material). Still, there is a solid instrumental foundation. “Arthur Brave” is an excellent multi-instrumentalist, and the other musicians (which include Teru of Versailles and some guy named Kouta that I’ve never heard of) are also nothing to sneeze at.
The weak point on the album are the vocals. On Polyphony, the vocals are handled by “Leo Figaro”, who has been a vocalist in almost every Japanese power metal band ever. He is difficult to understand when he sings in English, and impossible to understand when he sings in Japanese (unless, of course, you’re fluent), and his vocals often sound forced, particularly when he stretches his range to the utmost limits. Figaro’s vocals are often thin and not-quite-on-pitch. In the course of a single song they aren’t bad, but over the course of a full length album, they begin to get very repetitive, and often grating.
The strongest track on the album is the first full song, “Fate.” Though the vocals are nothing special, the chorus does manage to be quite catchy. The guitar solo midway through the song is excellent, adding the perfect touch of melody to an otherwise driving song. In fact, the guitar solos, with their blend of melody and neoclassical shred are the highlight of most songs – kind of like Dragonforce, but without repetition of the same scale over and over again. “Without You,” is another great example, as is “Berserker.”
The synths steal the show during “Trailblazer,” which features several different segments of dance-club-like synthesizers, mixed in the middle of a standard symphonic power metal song. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this until I listened to it several times, and I decided I liked it. Though not the first band to combine these styles of synthesizers with power metal, it is somewhat more pronounced here than I usually hear it. I honestly wish the instrumental sections were a little longer, to give us more of a reprieve from the sub-par vocals.
Personally, I’m a fan of Japanese power metal. I’ve spun X-Japan, Versailles, Galneryus, and Balflare hundreds of times each, and I’ve even given other Dragon Guardian albums like Dragonvarius, and 遙かなる契り, perhaps their two best albums, multiple spins. Polyphony however, doesn’t really stand up to the quality of their earlier albums. The shredding is toned down, the vocals are dull and become obnoxious after awhile, and the album doesn’t really seem to flow very well. I’d pass.
Graham’s Rating: 2.5 out of 5